Everything Kids Wish You Knew About Book-Gifting

By Pam Yosca Christmas, Hanukkah, and birthdays: opportunities to slide classic, literary titles from your own childhood into your kids' hands or a chance to prove how well you know your children's taste in current books?

Should you give kids the popular books they want? Absolutely! We want children to enjoy reading, and find camaraderie with other kids in the books they have in common. Should you also seek books that go beyond your children's wish lists and push through their reading comfort zones? Yes! You can be a helpful guide in your children's literary development, in tandem with their independent choices. Kids are actually quite likely to give your selections a chance, because as parents, you are a trusted resource (even if they tell you otherwise.)

We were curious to know what books kids asked for this past holiday season, as well as what books they received.  How do kids make book selections? Are they influenced by their friends? Parents? Other knowledgeable adults? Do they want help finding new books, or do they want to be left alone when it comes to choosing books for their own not-for-school reading?

To find out, Pam Yosca, a middle school librarian, talked to several readers, ages 10 to 13, from two public schools in Boston. The results? Kids generally know what they like to read. The loudest message from our casual, parent-and-teacher-free conversation is that many young readers are comfortable with the process of selecting books for themselves and appreciate the freedom to do so.  Despite that, young readers are still likely to read (and enjoy!) a book thoughtfully selected by a grownup who knows and cares about his or her reading interests.  Read on to learn more.

What books did you request and receive for Christmas/Hanukkah?

"The SEPTIMUS HEAP books by Angie Sage."

"Falcon Quinn by Jennifer Finney Boyle"

"The fifth book in THE MISSING series by Margot Peterson Haddix."

"I didn't ask for books for Christmas but got a lot! I read all of the books my mom and dad gave me already. They know how much I read and that I always need to find more books. I think they get help from the bookstore lady, too."

"I asked for Gary Paulsen books"

"I put two books from THE LORD OF THE RINGS on my list, but didn't get them. I don't know why."

Did you get books that you did not ask for? Have you/will you read these books?

"The Maze Runner by James Dashner. It's really good, have you read it? It's a trilogy."

"A nonfiction book on photography to go with the camera I got for my birthday. It's cool and useful."

"I got The Princess Bride by William Golding but haven't read it. I might someday."

"My younger brothers gave me the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney. Of course I read it."

"Some fantasy book with dragons…way too many dragons!"

"Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. They were good!! I recognized some characters and stories from movies and from something we read in school."

"I got The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and read it, and also Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink."

"I got a big book of Greek Myths, because I love the Rick Riordan books."

"I didn't ask for any books, but got The Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, The Girls' Life Ultimate Guide to Surviving Middle School and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  I read all of them, and think you should consider getting The Boy in the Striped Pajamas  for the school library!"

"Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh. It's a book about girl geniuses. I read it at school already, but there are a lot of girls in our house, so this is good to have."

"My grandma gave me The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley. She said it's a classic book.  I'll definitely read it."

"A Leonardo da Vinci biography by Kathleen Krull. I read it, but it was really boring."

"I got a biography of Cleopatra, but I'm not very excited about it."

Do you think your parents have a good idea of what you like to read?

"I like it when I find a great book myself and then my parents read it to see why I love it. Then my mom finds me other books that are similar.  She also gives me books that she read when she was little."

"I asked for some books for Christmas, and got a few from my parents that I didn't know.  All the books look pretty interesting.  My parents like to talk about books, and ask lots of questions about the books I read. I think they know what I like."

"My parents always want to see a sample of a book before we buy it for my Nook, so my mom really knows what books I like to read.  She also looks at my book choices at the library or bookstore, and says which ones are okay for us to borrow or buy."

"Sometimes my parents try to give me books that they think I should read. At first I really didn't want to read THE MISSING series by Haddix, but my mom kept insisting. One afternoon I had nothing to read, so I tried them, and I really liked them!!"

"Out of 30 books my parents have given me, I've liked maybe 5 of them.  They try to take me to the bookstore and share books with me, and we tend to get into arguments.  But I read a lot!"

"My parents have a pretty good idea of what I like to read, and we read books together and talk about them."

"My parents always buy me classic books, but I prefer to get recommendations from friends."

"I like to find my own books, but I do like help, too. If it wasn't for my dad I wouldn't have started reading Greek Mythology, but I picked out the PERCY JACKSON books on my own."

"My parents used to do story time with me when I was little, and I would always pick out the books. I still like to find my own books."

"My brother and sister know exactly what I like to read, because they see me reading all the time!"

"I don't usually listen to what grownups say about books. I like to find my own books."

"It depends. My dad recommended The Hobbit and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, and since it had wizards and dwarves, I said I would give it a try. So if a grownup describes a book that is an adventure or fantasy, my two favorite genres, I'll take that recommendation, but not otherwise."

Do you look to other adults for book advice?

"Yes! The librarian at the public library." [Every child echoed this.]

"Not really, I like to trust my own self."

"Yes, a good family friend gives me new, interesting books, every year. She introduced me to The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders, and I really liked that book. You should read it!"

"Not really. I just go to the graphic novel area of the library or bookstore."

"No, but if a grownup gives me a book, I usually will try it. That's how I got into the Maze Runner series by James Dashner—someone I barely know gave it to me!  "

How do you find out about new books?

"I try to find new books by the same author of a book I really liked. Then read everything!"

"I am going to the library this afternoon!"

"I force myself to read a book I don't know anything about.  If it has boring parts, sometimes I'll skip them and read the interesting parts instead. Then I'll go back and read the boring parts."

"I usually get recommendations from friends, or, I go to the library and pick out a book that looks good and read a bit of it. When I realize I like the book a lot, I'll find more books by that author or look at the references on the back."

"I find out if I like a book by reading the back cover or flap, and also by reading a few pages, at the beginning, or scattered throughout."

"I do that, too; I start reading it. I actually hardly ever read books that I don't like, because I make sure I really want to read it all first."

Thanks to the students from The Curley K-8 School and MATCH Middle School, both in Jamaica Plain, Boston: Charlie (6th grade), Claire (5th grade), Emmet (4th grade), Lacrisha (7th grade), Margot (4th grade), Nathan (6th grade), Nolan (4th grade), Nuala (5th grade), Suki (5th grade), and Willa (5th grade).